Decisions, decisions, decisions, life if full of them and we all have to make some at some point, the general rule of thumb being that you generally choose the better option, even if it’s the best of a bad lot. Rebelmind had a decision to make, should they call their latest game 'Space Hack’, as it had been known all through development, or should they call it 'Maximus XV Abraham Strong Space Mercenary’? They went for the latter. Having named their baby and given it up to the gaming world for review its now up to us, or me as the case now is to make a decision about whether this game is any good or not. Well it can’t be as bad as the name can it?!
Maximus XV Abraham Strong Space Mercenary has at least answered one of my most long standing questions: what would the lovechild of a drunken one night stand between Yoda and Duke Nukem sound like? Well Abraham Strong is the answer as well as being the core protagonist of Rebelmind’s Sci-Fi, Diablo-esque, 3D action role-playing game.
The story is simple and intriguing enough, you play Abraham Strong a super skilled space mercenary, your typical anti-hero, an insubordinate rebel who doesn’t follow the rules, he breaks them! Having been arrested for failing to comply with an order, as you do when you’ve got a problem with authority, Abraham has found himself in semi-captivity aboard a penal colony spaceship . Whilst being transported along with a full cargo of convicted prisoners his prison-ship comes under attack from a cosmic anomaly known as a Black Nebula. You’re only chance of survival requires Abraham to hack his way through the 15 alien infested biospheres that make up the spaceship and reach the mother module where there is handy emergency escape transporter. The game is broken up into quests which take place across 45 different levels which range from deserts to frozen plains, all with a futuristic sci-fi twist. These levels are all contained within the 15 biospheres that are trailed behind the mother module like a string of pearls, within which you’ll battle against a pretty big stable of aliens derived from 3 separate species. Naturally you are not expected to do this empty handed you can choose to go the melee route, relying on your trusty sword, club or axe or if you prefer more up to date weaponry you’ll be tooling yourself up with blasters or the other hi-tech weapons offered. The game boasts approximately 50 hours of gameplay, which I have to say I am somewhat sceptical about, as well as boasting 'Amazing real-time 3D graphics and spectacular special effects,’ as well as 'captivating in-game dialogue plus atmospheric industrial ambient music.’ Well enough of the blurb off the back of the box, what’s this game actually like and more importantly should you buy it?
I could just say awful and no, but lets not be too hasty. To be perfectly honest I find it difficult to imagine this game appealing to anybody in this day and age. This isn’t because it’s a bad game per se it’s just that the overall experience of the game is incredibly dated. Had this game appeared in the early to mid nineties it may have found an audience but in today’s market I just don’t see what this game has to offer. If RPG’s are your thing, this game just won’t do it for you. The RPG elements are minor and limited to the choosing of your heroes’ weaponry and accessories. There is a skills system but it’s made up of only four areas, strength, dexterity, knowledge and endurance; the impact of these, from my experience anyway, doesn’t really amount to much. You can choose obviously to focus on developing you strength and dexterity and thereby becoming a more effective melee combat character or instead you can focus on knowledge which permits you access to better technology and therefore weaponry or you could do what I did and raise all your stats evenly and do what you please. The skills system like so many RPG’s has no real tangible effect on the game. As with every futuristic RPG there is the inclusion of biochip upgrades but these aren’t nearly as exciting as they may at first sound. All we are talking about here is your most basic RPG spells, such as slow time, freeze or mind control. Abraham Strong or 'MXVASSM’ as I like to call it is not for the RPG enthusiasts amongst you. You lucky devils are currently spoiled because there is no shortage of forthcoming titles to anticipate and drool over. So if it’s not for them, then who?
Well, let’s cut to the chase, this game was made for Diablo fans. So, in an attempt to see if Abraham Strong might appeal to the Diablo generation I went back over a few reviews of Diablo to see what it was that made that game so appealing: it’s great storyline, its mood and atmosphere, its soundtrack, online multiplayer and the choice of 3 characters. Well Abraham Strong, the one and only playable character, has a reasonably intriguing storyline but however intriguing, due to the sheer campness of the game, epitomised by the awful eurotrash sounding voice 'acting’ to the groaningly poor one-liners uttered all too often by Abraham such as 'Send me a postcard,’ or 'We’ve gotta stop meeting like this,’ any chance this storyline had of gripping the player or enhancing his/her gaming experience would require such levels of naivety and suspension of disbelief that any red blooded Diablo fan would just find themselves shaking their heads and wishing there was a return policy on software. Nor have Rebelmind done themselves any favours with the artwork for the cover of the box to the game which is about as bad as it gets. The music is atmospheric enough but with the boring level design it scarcely makes a difference; the levels lack any mood or menace and obstacles are constantly obscuring your vision. Whilst being a 3D game you can only rotate the camera on a single axis, you cannot zoom in or out or more importantly change the pitch. There is a healthy arsenal of weaponry to choose from, from melee weapons to blasters of various sizes and types. There is however little enjoyments to be gained from the combat, the blaster effects look like Christmas tree decorations and sound about as lethal as a pocket calculator. Anyone who revels in blood-splattering carnage will also be disappointed, Diablo had a rugged, visceral feel to its combat making you feel like you were actually inflicting damage and not just tapping a mouse button a thousand times a second. Abraham Strong doesn’t ship with a multiplayer mode included and even though Rebelmind has hinted at a possible release something tells me that it’s not terribly likely to appear any time soon, if ever. What’s testament to the poorness of this game is that Diablo still stands streets ahead of it in my opinion even though it was released back in 1996.
In an interview for Gamershell Krzysztof Krawczyk, the co-founder of Rebelmind, extolled the virtues of the alien AI in Abraham Strong, claiming that the Monsters would search for enemies on their own and when threatened, they would call others to aid in the attack and also that beasts that shoot, try to find the best position for shooting. I’m afraid I cannot agree with this appraisal, the enemy AI is completely non-existent, they often stand motionless as you approach under no cover whatsoever only deciding to attack when you reach a predetermined distance, at which point they simply swamp you, you can however run faster and if you so wish form a kind of homicidal conga line as the follow you brainlessly around the level.
In a way I’m sorry to give this game such a poor review. Its not a bad game, its not some cynical cash-in where a totally substandard piece of drivel is spat out and has the budget that could have been spent on a developing it into a good game pumped into marketing or the purchasing of some movie license tie-in. Its an honest effort, at least that’s my opinion anyway, ten years ago this game might well have found an audience, but now? No chance! Abraham Strong is just too dated, whilst the programming appears solid, I didn’t come across any major bugs or flaws, this game is simply amateurish by today’s more sophisticated standards. Even to the less demanding gamer I just feel that there are better options out there on any system.